Why Strike?

With prices high and living standards low,
Our times are like what our grandparents knew.
They fought world war; we slave for war abroad
And soon will labor through retirement too.

We export energy but can’t afford
To heat our homes; we’re tired of interference
And more surveillance of exhausted lives
And freedom’s loss and pensions’ disappearance
To make France globally competitive.

We strike. One train in five may run, main roads
Are blocked, harbors and airports slowed, the streets
Aswarm with demonstrators. Schools are closed.

We lost the fight for low-cost motor fuel,
But we can make Macron and business pay.
French commerce will move slow as escargots
Until frustrated workers earn fair play.

A working mother’s childbirth leave must count
As labor toward a pension in retirement;
These students who start work with us next June
Must not face forty-three years toil requirement.

The government ought to withdraw this law
And burden plunderers to fund our system;
We’ll have full pensions at age sixty-two
Despite police and tear gas despotism.

Is this resistance striking as it might
Against real evils of existing blight?
Some hope it may, but most cooperate
With unions that adore the welfare state;
Decreasing benefits is what they hate.

Retirement in good health! Long live the strike!
Don’t work us all to death! Long live the strike!


Macron: the President of France
escargots: snails (popular word for traffic stoppages caused by strikers)



Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others. 

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20 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Say what you like about the French, but they have always known one basic political truth: When the government tries to “foutre” with you, “foutre” the government right back. Hard.

    Too bad Americans have never learned that.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Joe, for outlining that basic political truth. This time it has taken the French a few years to accumulate a variety of “foutre” grievances. We did have the “Worldwide Freedom Demonstrations” some time back, which managed to put large numbers on the streets for peaceful marches through cities on chosen days, but at present, France is the nation that is doing the most to express resentment in the public square. Unfortunately from my point of view, public discourse is largely limited to pension reform proposals, without taking account of other matters in my list below, which I see you have already noticed. Thanks for the comment there, too.

  2. Shaun C. Duncan

    This is an eloquent and compassionate expression of the striking workers’ frustrations. The clear language and irregularity of the form (though I’m sure there are formal aspects I am missing – your work is nothing if not precise) give the piece a directness which suits the subject matter and ensures the rhymes hit with more force, particularly as they build to the concluding couplet.

    The workers of France do themselves great credit in their readiness to stand up to their government. Unfortunately Le Petit Roi and the other middle managers who run the French state have proven they are equally stubborn.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Shaun. I intended some irregularity, especially in the three lines that describe effects of the strike, where even with the right number of syllables and accents, my syntax and enjambment make the reading rough. The concluding couplet is a quote of strikers I was watching on TV, where there was graffiti in the background asking whether workers wanted to work to the point of death. I too admire a million and a half persons who spread these demonstrations over 260 cities and towns, but I see that authorities are going ahead with everything necessary to legislate as soon as possible, maybe even today. And I suspect there will be strong action against strikers on the street if protests continue beyond a few days. The government attitude seems to be that the people just don’t know what’s best for them.

  3. Morrison Handley-Schachler

    Very readable and well-informed, Margaret. At least there are people in France who won’t take things lying down. And at least the French have plenty of nuclear power stations to fall back on for energy. It all sounds regrettably familiar in the United Kingdom, where we are all paying the price for the government’s nonsensical “net zero” policies and their attitude towards older workers and pensioners.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Morrison. France was until very recently an exporter of energy (in part because they have kept their nuclear facilities going despite environmental concerns), but there has been a need to import energy during the last year. This has made strikers so angry that they are causing slowdowns in both oil refineries and nuclear plants. This is a big problem for the government, but a more immediate one for homes and small businesses. I am sorry for the suffering on both sides of the Channel! You are right that it derives from ideological nonsense.

  4. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Informative poem on a situation with which few of us were likely aware. With your words I understand the reasons for the strike and have sympathies with the strikers. I particularly love the phrase, “French commerce will move slow as escargots.”

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Roy. When Americans first find out about this fuss, we are inclined to consider the French, with the early retirement age of 62, silly for thinking they cannot work until 64. Nearly all countries around them set retirement at 65 or 66. However, when we consider the numerous background issues (see below), we can more easily thank them for speaking up. The age dispute itself represents a worrisome turn toward devaluing seniors. I was dismayed to hear Morrison Handley-Schachler mention declining respect for elders in the UK. This is what happens when we measure personal worth by money-making power, and forget important values in favor of utility.

  5. France

    Margaret i enjoyed that you gave truthful different aspects of the issue. I really value that.

    • Margaret Coats

      France, merci. I value your recognition of what I do in the poem. Please let me respond by listing aspects you see. Others who are not familiar may appreciate this.

      1. Inflation and high prices
      2. Living standards back to late 1940s level
      3. Vast sums spent on the Ukraine war
      4. Energy mismanagement
      5. State surveillance legally expanded from keeping lists of terrorist sympathizers to keeping lists of everyone’s religion, philosophy, and trade union membership
      6. Lockdown resentment
      7. Interference in private health decisions
      8. European Union demands about pension funding
      9. Resentment because yellow-vest protests over fuel prices were stopped by riot police and tear gas
      10. Pension reforms especially unfair to women who miss work years to care for children and elders
      11. Pension reforms make work years longer for students who have not yet entered the work force
      12. Desire to retire while still in good health
      13. Fear that some will die before earning retirement
      14. Unions support welfare state mentality and care only about benefits, not about other aspects mentioned here

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I think we should recognize that France (along with many nations enslaved by the E.U.) now operates under a system that should be termed Liberal Fascism.

        Hitler and Mussolini would have salivated at the prospect of having the controls that made possible the evils enumerated in Margaret’s list.

  6. Brian A Yapko

    Margaret, thank you for this current-event poem which puts a powerful spotlight on events in France which, until now, were just outside my peripheral vision. The poetry is well-crafted and both forceful and logical in its description of the issues. You make it look easy when I know how well one must sweat the details in crafting a political poem which focuses on very concrete issues such as the running of the trains and the proper age for pension-entitlement. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a poem dedicated to pension disputes before, so brava for bringing poetry into a new frontier! And for doing it with both fairness and aplomb — I, too, like that escargot simile!

    I especially like the repeats of “Long live the strike” knowing that this is virtually a translation of what a Frenchman would say: Viva La Strike!

    Thank you, Margaret, for the poem, for the information about news across the Atlantic, and for reminding us that the U.S. is not the only country facing civil and economic challenges.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks, Brian. The subject of the poem may seem peripheral to many of us, until we realize the French strike is the most substantial public protest against our losses of freedoms in the past few years. Pension reform just happens to be the point at issue right now. Governments can tolerate freedom marches that don’t tie up transport and slow down production. But during these two days, French workers have shown they can lock down their government. What effect that demonstration of power will have remains to be seen. “Vive la greve” [grave accent on the first “e” in greve] shows their hope to make the effect a long-lived one.

  7. Cynthia Erlandson

    Though I have not been tuned in to this political situation, I enjoyed both the poetic style, and what I could learn from this discussion of the issues. The penultimate verse was my favorite.

    • Margaret Coats

      I’m glad you enjoyed the poem, Cynthia, and more so that you pointed to the most important stanza. It asks whether the pension reform strike is striking out against the “real evils” or root problems in our “existing blight.” For the most part, it is getting distracted because the labor unions organizing the strike are not concerned with fundamental loss of freedoms. They favor welfare state government, and simply do their best to obtain the largest benefits for their members. The pension question is important, and to many individuals may be vital for day-to-day life. But the person who signed “France” to an above comment recognizes deeper aspects to a complex situation. I was surprised to see that comment and I don’t know who the person is, but I am very sad to think he or she may have feared to be known by name.

  8. Joseph S. Salemi

    In your above comment, Margaret, you obliquely touch upon a truth that is only now being very slowly recognized. Needless to say, it is a truth about which the claqueurs of mainstream American conservatism are either totally clueless, or criminally silent. Here it is in German:

    Der Marxismus ist der Schutzengel des Kapitalismus
    (Marxism is the Guardian Angel of Capitalism)

    All of the “deeper aspects” of the current crisis in France go way beyond the question of pension rights and benefits. Those deeper aspects (government surveillance, illegal lockdowns, loss of political freedoms, forced labor, and savage police action against dissent) are symptoms of a surreptitious but steady erosion of liberty and free choice in the West, and especially in the new Third Reich called the E.U.

    The anonymous person posting under the name “France” says it all. Why is he or she afraid to be identified? Is the person living in Vichy France, with the Gestapo nearby?

    The German quote encapsulates it all. Big Business now uses the impulse of Cultural Marxism to increase profits, and to push the great mass of the population into wage slavery and serfdom. Does anyone still wonder why Big Business is today the most potent force behind all of the worst cultural degradations we endure: wokeness, political correctness, pervert-worship, pronoun obsession, gender feminism, and critical race theory? Or why the Republican Party (with antennae ever attuned to Big Business policies) will do nothing fundamental to fight all of this poison?

    Ten Republican senators sided with that verminous scumbag Senator Schumer to attack Tucker Carlson for revealing inconvenient truths about January 6, and to call for the censoring of Carlson by Fox News! Marxism is the Guardian Angel of Capitalism.

    • Margaret Coats

      Thanks once more, Joe, for delving into this and explaining further. I entitled the poem “Why Strike?” in order to bring up as much as possible from the socio-political backdrop, and to point toward understanding such as your analysis has given. It isn’t hard to notice tough, right-thinking patriotism in parts of the E. U., if you are looking for it. I recall being in France at election time when billboards in the countryside were exhorting candidates and voters to uphold the interests of La France. Hungary has repeatedly gotten into trouble for “non-E.U. values” (including dislike for immigration) and the Netherlands mounted a protest on multiple issues that brought out a full tenth of the population. These things don’t destroy the opposing conglomerates, but may their flames continue to flicker, and be noticed by fellow strugglers!

  9. Margaret Coats

    The streets are filled with uncollected trash.
    Year-end exams in schools may not take place.
    The pension law will pass without a vote
    Though legislators hold up protest signs
    And shout to ministers, “Resign! Resign!”
    The worldwide media’s analysis
    Reports that strikers took a violent turn.
    Thus tear gas floats and water cannons hiss
    While garbage heaps in towns and cities burn.

  10. Tom Rimer

    Margaret — because of other commitments, I am late coming to this poem, but as our morning TV broadcast showed us, the strike is very much still with us, and the pictures of Paris look like an all-too realistic updating of the riots in the broadway musical LES MISERABLES. That was play-acting. This is all too real. You managed to get the complaints of the general population so well articulated in your poem. Perhaps we should get this set to music too!

    • Margaret Coats

      Thank you, Tom. I had time to look up news interviews in French before I wrote the poem, and I was surprised to find the varied concerns ordinary French people expressed. We see practically none of that in English language news. I just looked at 30 pages of today’s photos from around France. Every single one had the same English caption declaring popular dislike of raising the retirement age to be the cause of all the unrest. There was one photo of young persons throwing tear gas canisters. They were wearing paper medical masks and throwing the tear gas AWAY from the crowd, so I presume they were countering police efforts to disperse the strikers with tear gas. As you say, this strike has turned out to have a long life. I am glad, however, that garbage is at last being collected after sitting on streets for three weeks in some locations (with a certain amount of it being burned by demonstrators, as I wrote above eight days ago). You may have heard that the Bordeaux city hall was burned down, but when I checked on that report, I found that a few ruffians had set fire to and scorched a tall wooden door to an old carriage entry. They were quickly arrested, and may have to pay 150,000 euros in damages, unless they get ten years in prison. I wonder if jail time counts toward the 43 years of work needed to get a pension under the new law!


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